Record number of SMEs in Belgium, number of jobs rising

Record number of SMEs in Belgium, number of jobs rising
Illustration image of an SME. Credit: Belga/ Jonas Hamers

The number of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) that are active in Belgium continues to rise after surpassing the 1 million mark in 2019, despite the fact more bankruptcies also increased.

Belgium had almost 1.142 million active SMEs at the end of 2022, up from almost 1.093 million in 2021, figures from the FPS Economy showed. The number of SMEs increased exceptionally in recent years: by 40,145 in 2020, 43,792 in 2021 and 48,745 in 2022.

David Clarinval, Minister for the Self-employed and SMEs, noted that these figures still reflect the impact of the health crisis, as the number of bankruptcies increased. "But the figures also testify to our country's resilience and entrepreneurial vitality: a 4.5% growth in the number of SMEs," he said.

"The density of Belgium's SMEs is slightly above the EU average, underlining their crucial role in our economic fabric and the need to keep encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit."

Even larger increase recorded

The figures show that, despite an increase in the number of discontinuations (from 70,710 discontinuations in 2021 to 78,046 in 2022), and the 42% rise in bankruptcies (to 9,265, amounting to 22,400 jobs lost), there was a stronger increase in the number of SMEs in 2022 compared to previous years.

"So there seems to have been a double movement in 2022: a post-Covid economic recovery, with an increase in the number of start-ups, and the negative effects of the energy crisis leading to a higher number of closures," the FPS Economy noted.

However, the end of the 2021 government intervention for businesses and the bankruptcy moratorium resulting in fewer bankruptcies also had the logical consequence that in 2022, that figure rose again to a similar level as before the health crisis.

Compared to the trend of the past decade, the number of SMEs increased significantly in all categories, except for enterprises with one to nine employees. SMEs without employees grew the most, with a 5.2% increase compared to 2021.

"Moreover, Belgium ranks fourth among the 27 EU member states when it comes to the share of micro-enterprises (fewer than 10 employees): 95.6% compared to the EU average of 93.7%."

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The main sectors for SMEs were specialised, scientific and technical activities (19.6%), trade (16.5%) and construction (13.8%). Together, they represent about half of all SMEs.

Despite a 0.5% fall in the number of SME employers in the private sector between 2021 and 2022 – mainly due to the difficulties micro enterprises faced during the energy crisis – the number of jobs in SMEs increased by 1.7%.

The number of self-employed workers and helpers knocked off at 1,257,356, another 2.2% increase compared to 2021.

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